I despised him.
He was a gentler child in the neighbourhood. And boys are able to detect the softer child without any problem. In my backstreet playground close to Chinatown, the tough and the mean are respected. I was as tough and mean as they came for an eleven year old. I was no more than a nasty child practising for a violent future, for when he decided that it was a good idea to pick up the shuttlecock that fell on the ground while I was playing badminton, it was time to teach him a lesson…
I attacked him.
At this time, I was already attending church. Mom was a nominal Christian when God worked a change of heart in her. She returned to the Lord and brought us children along with her to the Telok Ayer Methodist Church, Singapore. There I first heard the Gospel. By this time, I had been attending the Sunday School for a while, but the Word of God did not germinate in my heart. It was a Hokkien-speaking church and somehow the Gospel did not resonate with me.
I was getting meaner each passing year, and the backstreet was my universe.
The following year, we moved to Serangoon Gardens and Mom brought us to the Paya Lebar Methodist Church. When I was thirteen, my classmate David Ding invited me to his church – the Zion B-P Church, which was about 200 metres from my home. Coming from an impoverished neighbourhood, Serangoon Gardens was up-market. And all the people in Zion were so western. I felt entirely out-of-place socially. But with repeated invitations, I returned and began attending the Sunday School and the Junior Fellowship (for children up to 14 years old).
The Gospel message I heard in Zion was not substantially different from what I heard in the Methodist Church, but it resonated with me much better. Perhaps my Sunday School teacher was more effective. Perhaps it was the switch from Hokkien (Chinese dialect) to English that opened the door of communication. But surely, it was the Holy Spirit working in me. My Sunday School teacher insisted that we had to receive Christ as our Saviour and insisted that believing in Christ was not good enough.
I resisted the message.
But as the Holy Spirit continued to speak to me, on a Thursday in October 1972, in the privacy of my own room, I prayed to receive Jesus as my Saviour. Zion B-P Church nurtured me and I grew spiritually in that church.
Many years passed, and I was a 21 year old doing NS as a trainee in the School of Physical Training. One of the sports we did was boxing. Our batch of trainees had someone who had slow reflexes; and he would always get knocked around in our boxing sessions. I pulled him aside to try to coach him so he will not always lose. But this was to no avail. He was just slow. I gave up.
One day, I visited grandma back in the old house, and walked the backstreets in nostalgia. Who should I meet but this slow-reflexes trainee! As our eyes met, we suddenly recognized each other.
He was the person I attacked when I was eleven years old!
I cannot say I am aware of the transforming work of Christ in my life on a day-to-day basis. But I suddenly became aware that the irascible eleven year old had become a compassionate twenty-one year old. Jesus redeemed me from sin. He transformed my life through his gift of the Holy Spirit working in my life. I realized I was no longer the person I used to be. Without the redeeming work of Christ in my life, I dare not think where I may be today.
God, by his unfathomable grace, spoke peace to my troubled soul, convicted me of sin, forgave me, and changed me.
SOLI DEO GLORIA.
The Call to Serve
Dad’s library had a book quite out of character with his collection of books on grammar, math, Latin, and other things beyond me. It was a plain looking book titled All men are brothers: a portrait of Albert Schweitzer. At fourteen years of age, I had no idea who Albert Schweitzer was, nor could I pronounce Schweitzer.
He was an incredibly talented man who was a missionary doctor in Africa, who was so good at piano that he played in concerts in Europe to raise funds for his work in Africa. His compassion for the African people, and for all life in general, left an indelible impression in me.
This was about a year after I received Jesus as my Saviour and Lord. I was reading the Bible voraciously, and any Christian literature I could find, when I came across the biography of Hudson Taylor.
Hudson Taylor was a different type of missionary to China. Taylor’s preparation for ministry, his health break down, his unflinching commitment to the Chinese people, and many other details moved me. Such purpose or self-sacrifice is alien to my selfish heart. What could make a 19th century Englishman leave the comforts of home to sacrificial training and ceaseless service to the Chinese people? How could he so totally embrace the Chinese that he would go inland, lived like a Chinese, wore a pigtail and Chinese clothes?
I was shamed and moved to a new love for people who need the Gospel. What better life direction than to become like Hudson Taylor! I knew I could never be like Schweitzer because I am no musician. But I can serve God as Hudson Taylor did.
I was, however, a rather poor student in school. On the one hand, God was doing a spiritual birth in me, but on the other, I was just doing so poorly in school. If I want to be like Schweitzer or Taylor, I need to do well in school.
At about this time, I discovered that God has blessed me with an aptitude for spiritual matters.
I was the idiot savant who was totally inept in school, but could retain the Bible and spiritual truths with ease. When things are framed in the context of my faith, I remember them all. My desire to honour God in my studies led me to apply myself to school work. It is completely true that were it not for the sake of ministry, I would not have been motivated to study. Whereas I tried to pass with the least amount of work, my attitude was transformed by the Holy Spirit to faithful study because that is my calling as a student.
By God’s grace, my grades began to improve. When I completed my O Levels, I qualified for most Pre-Universities (now called Junior Colleges). But I had enough of secular studies and was eager to get into biblical studies.
“How can you, a sixteen year old, make a decision to limit your entire life by going into Bible College after your O levels? What makes you think you will not regret it? And if you discover that you made a mistake, what can you do then?” I cannot argue against this truth. So I sought the Lord in prayer asking for a confirmation one way or other.
“God, am I doing this because I seem to have an aptitude for it, or do you really want me to do this?” Mom, a third/fourth generation Christian, was supportive. Dad, a recent convert, felt I was throwing my future away. Grandma (paternal), a Taoist, was convinced that I was going to become a priest and would not be able to continue the family line. There were many voices.
What was God telling me?
At this time, I listened to the testimony of the call to ministry by a missionary from Sweden/Norway, with a name that sounded like “Yurila.” His ministry was a gospel boat ministry around Indonesia. What struck me was that he made his decision to serve God when he was fifteen years old. He was urged to get his secular degree first. It was as though God had given me an answer through the missionary’s life. But I needed further confirmation.
Several weeks later, I prayed, “Lord, I can see that if I enter ministry, there is no fame or fortune waiting for me. I also know there is much hardship and discipline. I accept all that, but I need you to give me peace in my heart so I know this is from you.” No sooner was the prayer said that a deep peace pervaded my heart. I bowed in submission to God’s call.
That was the defining moment of God’s call for me to serve him. Whatever I do in ministry, and regardless of my doubts and failures, I know he called me to serve him. The ministry has proven to be extraordinarily difficult. If I had known ahead of time what was in store for me, I would not have been so eager to enter fulltime ministry. However, God has used the ministry to grow me in ways I will otherwise never exercise myself.
Now I understand: the ministry was not my sacrifice to God, but God’s gift to me to mould me.
And as I enter the final lap in my life, God has renewed his gentle call for me to love him and serve him faithfully. Today, I serve with a deep sense of inadequacy, dependence on God, and undeserved privilege.